6 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Writing Skill (and Look More Professional)
Do you think you need to improve your business writing skill? More importantly, does your boss or co-workers think you need to improve your business writing skill?
I once worked with a guy in sales that looked good and sounded great when he talked to you. Yet, he never was anything more than an average salesperson, always sitting in the middle of the sales numbers list even on his best months. We always wondered why he didn’t do better. Then one day he sent a group email to the company looking for volunteers to take part in a charity softball game his former college fraternity was hosting. Whoa … Houston we have a problem! Multiple typos, grammatical errors by the ton and punctuation was more of a guideline than a rule, Captain Jack. Let’s put it this way … none of us ever wondered about his shortcomings again.
It supported what survey after survey of U.S. businesses consistently say. Written communication is their employees’ biggest skill problem. Unfortunately, while many professionals’ writing skills aren’t up-to-speed, the need for solid written communication is stronger than ever. In fact, many top executives say that effective business writing is the skill most needed for professional recognition and success!
However, in an age where an entire generation seems to have learned how to write in 140 characters or less with emojis, can you learn how to improve your business writing and write more clearly and concisely? Definitely! And, the time spent honing this one skill could have as big of an impact on your success than any other skill or knowledge you possess.
Writing may not come naturally for you, but there are tips and techniques to get words flowing freely with a lot less effort and aggravation. The true mark of strong business writing is that it gets the results you want.
1. Take time to plan
You may be thinking at this moment: “I don’t have time to plan. I need to get this out now!” The fact is, planning what to write saves you time. That’s because you have uppermost in your mind your purpose in writing, who your audience is, what action you want to stimulate, which tone is appropriate, the points you need to make to convey your message and the order you need to make them in. I’ve been a writer since I worked on my school paper in junior high back in the 1970’s, and yet I almost never write anything of importance without jotting down a few notes to myself first.
And, if you’re wondering … yes, I still use a legal or steno pad and a pen. While Millennials may scoff at me for not using a tablet, the comfort created over 40 years of pen to paper cannot be equaled. Hey … 20 to 30 years from now when YOU are 55-years old and still using a tablet, the 20-year olds will be mocking you for using such antiquated tech. And guess what? Just like me, you won’t care either.
2. Know your reader
You must know at least enough about your reader or your reader’s needs to write a subject line, title or first paragraph that will grab THAT reader. Remember: You are in competition with every other person who sent your reader mail today. It is doubtful that your reader will read all of it—let’s make sure he or she reads at least YOURS.
3. Use correct grammar
There are hundreds of grammar rules for English, yet writers and proofreaders need to know only five general ones to ensure their message is understood:
- Emphasize your point at the beginning and the end
- Keep all parts that describe something in a sentence as close as possible to that something
- Make sure language agrees in number and reference
- Limit phrases and clauses to no more than three for complex content and four for simple content
- Be consistent in style and content
Letter writing has a long history, and with the passing of time, certain phrases have come to be used over and over again. These well-worn expressions are known as clichés (from a French word meaning “copied”).
Why do we use them? Because they’re familiar. They come to mind more easily than original thoughts when we’re faced with a writing task. Are they useful? Only if you really want to sound dry and old-fashioned. For a fresh, personal style, you should try to replace clichés with phrases of your own.
Jargon is trickier. Use it sparingly and only when you are absolutely certain your target audience is familiar with it. For example, if it’s an internal email going to co-workers, using jargon (“TPS reports”) is perfectly acceptable. If you’re sending the same memo to people who aren’t software engineers or in quality assurance spell it out (“Testing Procedure Specification reports”). When in doubt, leave the jargon out.
5. Edit, edit, edit
Editing means making what you said as clear as possible to your readers. It means finding the most effective structure and words and throwing away the rest. If you have to make introductions or transitions, you have things in the wrong order. If you retain words that aren’t essential, you sap your reader’s strength. Every word you eliminate keeps your reader with you for one more sentence.
6. Make it look good
While the recipient can’t visually see YOU when reading a written communication, he or she CAN see the actual documentation. This means the “visual” percentage could now be based on your grammatical usage or command of the English language, spelling, punctuation or even the formatting of the document. Fifty-five percent of the recipient’s belief is based on the VISUAL interpretation.
Practice these six things and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll improve your business writing skills.